Best of our wild blogs: 22 Oct 15

Death of a Plain Tiger
Bird Ecology Study Group

Macro Photography Outings – September 2015
Bugs & Insects of Singapore

Jokowi hints at company crackdown as Kalimantan residents prepare haze class action suit
Mongabay Environmental News

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Experts divided on effect of high PM2.5 levels

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Oct 15;

The one-hour PM2.5 pollutant reading reached a record high on Monday but experts are divided on how harmful that will be to health.

While some say even a one-time event could be considered potentially hazardous according to standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are others who believe that only prolonged exposure to high PM2.5 concentration levels should be a cause for concern.

On Monday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the PM2.5 concentration level of 471 in the western areas of the country at 11pm was the highest recorded so far this year.

Conditions on that day had deteriorated sharply in several parts of the island after denser haze from areas south of Singapore was blown in by the prevailing winds.

Senior research scientist Santo Salinas at the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing at the National University of Singapore said that according to the EPA, PM2.5 concentrations higher than 65.5 micrograms per cubic metre are considered "unhealthy limits and potentially hazardous."

"I would say anything above 65 micrograms per cubic m is potentially harmful and steps should be taken to protect the more vulnerable," said Dr Salinas.

PM2.5 pollutants are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, or a 30th the diameter of a human hair, and unlike coarser particles, the body is not equipped to filter them out.

Long- term exposure to them on a regular basis has been linked to increased risk of death from complications such as lung cancer or heart disease.

The short exposure to PM2.5 concentrations over one or two hours at a level like Monday's exacerbates respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses in addition to irritation of the throat and nose, said research scientist Erik Velasco from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

"My recommendation is to check constantly the one- hour PM2.5 concentrations reported every hour by NEA," said Dr Velasco.

"If the current concentration is over 150 micrograms per cubic m, try to stay indoors."

The NEA has stated that only the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which takes into account the PM2.5 concentration levels, is used as a basis for the health advisories issued by the Ministry of Health.

Associate Professor Richard Webster, from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, said the spike is only really significant if it lasts for several days.

Compared with cigarette smoking, said Prof Webster, the total amount of PM2.5 breathed in over 24 hours' exposure to a concentration of 471 micrograms per cubic m would still be less than half the PM2.5 found in one cigarette.

He said the true health effects of PM2.5 from environmental samples are not yet accurately known.

"Cigarette smokers experience astronomically higher PM2.5 levels than what is given on the PSI scale and many live to old age, or at least the effects of smoking cigarettes do not catch up with them for many years. This would imply that the classifications on the health effects of the PM2.5 (unhealthy, hazardous, etc) are considerably overestimating the seriousness of the problem, at least in the short term," he said.

"The best thing to do is to carry on as normal and not to worry about it too much. However, people who exercise vigorously might like to slow down when the PSI level gets very high, since the amounts that they breathe in will increase proportionally to their breathing rate."

In its advisory yesterday, NEA said the 24-hour PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the low to mid sections of the unhealthy range, and may improve to the high end of the moderate range if winds are favourable.

As of 7pm yesterday, the 24-hour PSI reading was at 93-167.

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Malaysia: RM4m project to transfer raw water to critical dams in Johor

RIZALMAN HAMMIM New Straits Times 21 Oct 15;

JOHOR BARU: The Johor state government has started a RM4 million project to transfer additional raw water into two dams hit by critically-low water levels.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the project is expected to provide up to 30 million litres per day of additional raw water to the Sungai Layang and Sungai Lebam dams.

"The mechanical and civil engineering works for the project have started and we expect the water transfer process to begin by the end of December," said Khaled in a statement.

The project will transfer between 10 to 15 million litres of raw water per day via a 15.3km-long network of pipes from Sungai Papan to Sungai Lebam.

Another 15 million litres of water will be transferred via a 5km-long network of pipes from Sungai Tiram to the Sungai Layang dam.

Khaled said the allocation for the project was given through SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd.

Once completed, it is expected to restore water levels at the Sungai Layang and Sungai Lebam dams, which provide treated water to parts of Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang as well as to parts of Kota Tinggi.

"The state government is aware of the difficulties faced by the residents in the affected areas since the introduction of the scheduled water supply. We will continue to find short and long-term solutions to restore the water supply," said Khaled.

He said other efforts will continue to be taken until the state government is satisfied that enough had been done to boost the water levels at the two dams.
These efforts include cloud seeding which began Oct 12 and water supply rationing, which has prolonged the water reserves at the two dams.

Khaled said these two initiatives have enabled four affected zones in the city, namely Taman Johor Jaya, Damasara Aliff, the Tebrau 1, 2 and 4 Industrial Areas and the Mount Austin Light Industrial Area, to be excluded from water rationing this month.

He said the Johor Water Regulatory Body (Bakaj), with the cooperation of SAJ Holdings, will continue to monitor the water levels at the affected dams as rainfall has not shown any positive effect on the water levels.

Khaled also called upon local experts to provide suggestions and feedback to identify the best methods to improve the water supply and solve issues affecting the water supply at the two dams.

NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 23 Oct 15;

JOHOR BARU: The state government hopes to increase water levels in two of its dams through a RM4mil water transfer project.

Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the project would help to add about 30 million litres of water per day (MLD) for both the Sg Layang and Sg Lebam dams. The dams are in the red due to falling water levels in recent months.

“This project funded by the state government will be carried out by Syarikat Air Johor and initial construction works has started and we hope that the water transfer will start in December,” he said, adding that for the Lebam dam, water would be taken from Sg Papan and would involve laying about 15.3km of pipes.

This will add some 10 to 15 MLD for the Lebam dam daily.

“As for the Sg Layang dam, we will be laying 5km of pipes to channel 15 MLD from Sg Tiram.”

Khaled said the project would help increase the water levels at both the dams, which were supplying treated water to Johor Baru and Pasir Gudang.

“The state government understands the inconvenience suffered since the water scheduling exercise started,” he said, hoping that the project would help end the scheduled water supply for residents in Taman Johor Jaya, Damansara Aliff, Tebrau industrial estates and Mount Austin light Industrial area.

Khaled said the state government was constantly looking for solutions to restore the water levels at both the dams.

“We believe that the water transfer will help lengthen the lifespan of the dams too.

“We have also been carrying out cloud seeding operations since Oct 12,” he added, adding that so far the rainfall in the area has yet to show positive results in increasing the dams water levels.

The level at the Sungai Layang dam in Pasir Gudang, which supplies water to about 580,000 consumers, is now at 19.55m. The critical level is 23.5m.

The level at the Sg Lebam in Kota Tinggi, which provides water to 53,000 consumers, is at 8.56m, while the critical level is 12.27m. This has led to the scheduled water supply being extended for a third month up to Nov 16.

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Malaysia: Malaysians want action to end haze

Victoria Brown The Star/ANN AsiaOne 21 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA - Malaysians are at the end of their tether having to live with the unhealthy air probably until March next year, and are demanding concrete action from both the Government and Indonesia.

Voicing their frustration in cyberspace, many urged the Government to push Indonesia for an end to the forest fires raging in various areas in the republic.

Many commented that the haze should be tackled at the root cause.

"There has been much coverage on the haze, but little on the cause of the forest fires," commented Facebook user Chey Vun Khen.

"The haze will not end until its root cause is solved," he said on The Star Online Facebook page.

The Star on Monday reported that experts predict an increasing number of hotspots and raging fires in new areas in Indonesia.

Along with the El Nino-like conditions, this may mean that Malaysians could be smothered by the haze until March next year.

Facebook user Usun Jau said if the cause was not tackled, the haze would keep coming back in years to come.

"By the time it ends next year, another forest fire would be created again. The cycle goes on and on," said Jau.

Many wanted the endless cycle of haze to be stopped once and for all.

Facebook user Fook Weng Edmond Lee said Malaysia should take a class action lawsuit against Indonesia for the yearly haze problem.

"The economic consequence is enormous," he said.

Readers said that the closure of schools every other day due to the haze was not practical.

Facebook user Siti Fatimah Zahra said that she pitied the school children and teachers because so many activities have been postponed and rescheduled.

"If they keep closing schools on weekly basis, the year end exams will never finish," said April Blossom.

"No more closing schools! Let the kids finish their exams," she said.

Malaysians are also worried about the health effects caused by the haze.

Malay-Muslim NGOs in M’sia to file class action lawsuit against firms causing haze
AsiaOne 21 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR — Companies that have been using forest fires to clear land in Indonesia will face a class action lawsuit in about a month, several Malay-Muslim groups said today (Oct 21) after voicing frustration over the annual haze problem.

Mr Nadzim Johan, who heads the Muslim Consumer Association of Malaysia (PPIM), said the proposed lawsuit will be a good way for those affected by the haze to express their anger against the the firms responsible.

“So we want to collect information, who burns forest, who is the owner and we ask the lawyers that have expertise in legal matter, maybe international laws to gather and discuss with the purpose of taking legal actions against companies, especially Malaysian companies,” he told reporters at a press conference.

Mr Abd Kareem Said Khadaied, another activist present at the media conference, said the Malay-Muslim groups involved in the planned lawsuit are currently in a “fact-finding” process to determine if 10 companies in their list are truly responsible for contributing to the haze.

“We identify the companies, some of the 10 companies are subsidiaries of GLCs and we also know that Malaysia’s GLCs have much involvement with farming in Indonesia.

“So we hope those who are involved, come to us, before we come and find them,” the secretary-general of Muslim group Pertubuhan Tarekat Muktabar Malaysia (Pertama) said.

The Malay-Muslim groups that are currently listed as part of the class action suit include Perkasa, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA), Pewaris, Yayasan Muamalat Belia, Yayasan Patriot Negara Malaysia.

Mr Abd Kareem later told reporters that the eventual list of non-governmental organisations involved in the lawsuit could easily go up to 250, which he claimed would represent one million consumers.

He said Gabungan Amin, a coalition of 50 Malay-Muslim NGOs that he said he leads, represents half a million consumers and will also be part of the lawsuit.

Like Mr Nadzim who said that any NGO is welcome to join the suit and even lead it, Mr Abd Kareem said that Chinese and Indian groups are also welcomed to do so as the matter transcends racial boundaries.

“The issue at hand has got nothing to do with race, so although the base is basically Malay and Muslim NGOs, we welcome non-Malay NGOs to come with us, because the issue at hand surpasses racial barriers, this is something that affects the entire Malaysian population so we should get together and take collective action,” he said.

Mr Abd Kareem said another action that can be taken is to launch a boycott against companies that are involved in forest burnings, but said time would first be given for these companies to step forward and offer solutions.

“We are in the process of finalising our investigations and before we initiate the boycott, we are giving the room to these people who are responsible to come to us. So we do not want to launch the boycott immediately.

“No, we won’t be contacting them, they will be contacting us. Because they know who they are,” he said, having cautioned that the power of consumers should not be underestimated.

Mr Nadzim said the boycott could be on an international scale, saying that they might ask environmentally-conscious countries to join in the protest and seek for them to be blocked from certain markets like the European Union zone. MALAY MAIL ONLINE

Topsy-turvy days due to haze
The Star 22 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The sudden closure of several schools in Penang in the afternoon has left many fuming.

Parents, teachers, school transporters and canteen operators were caught by surprise and things got topsy-turvy.

In George Town yesterday, a last- minute directive was issued for afternoon school sessions in Penang to close due to the worsening haze.

Education Department director Shaari Osman said he decided at about 11.30am yesterday to suspend the afternoon session when the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading neared 150 and began sending out the directive by facsimile.

He said the decision was made at the last minute as the air quality started to decrease rapidly from 11am.

Some schools, however, claimed that they only got the directive at about 2pm although the afternoon session began at 1.10pm in some schools.

While some schools, which got the directive earlier, turned away students sent by their parents at the gates, others were caught in a dilemma as they only knew about the closure after all their students had arrived.

At Convent Green Lane (CGL), parents were surprised when they arrived with their children only to be told that the afternoon session had been suspended.

One parent, P.D. Joan, said she even called the school at 12.30pm to check if the afternoon session had been suspended due to the haze but was told that it would proceed.

“When I arrived at 12.50pm with my daughter, a Rela guard on duty told me that there was no school. I then called the school again and was told that they had just received the directive,” she said.

But unlike CGL, many schools in the state only received the directive after the afternoon sessions had started.

SK Seberang Jaya 1 pupils in Taman Siakap on the mainland were seen in their classrooms at 3.30pm.

Pupils of SJK (C) Moh Ghee Pusat in Perak Lane were also seen leaving the school about 2pm.

When contacted, the clerk confirmed that the school received the directive late.

Izeham Abd Hamid, the father of a Year Four pupil, expressed disappointment over the last-minute announcement.

“Action needs to be taken early. There is no need to wait until the situation gets critical to close the school.

“Many parents are working and not everyone is available to pick up their children at the last minute. Schoolbuses also have other passengers to ferry,” he said, adding that the directive should have been issued before the session started.

A canteen operator, who declined to be named, said a lot of food ended up going to waste due to the last-minute notice.

“The school informed us after 1pm, but it was too late as we had already prepared the food,” she said.

A total of 95 school sessions were stopped in Penang yesterday.

The closing of schools is a reflection of what has been happening on the ground daily in the last few months since the haze took over the Malaysian sky.

Many schools in other states, including Selangor, the Federal Territories, Negri Sembilan, Sabah and Sarawak, have been closed since Monday.

In those four days, parents and teachers have not been getting proper updates and have to painstakingly check many avenues to see if the schools are going to be open or closed the next day.

The daily routine then continues with them making arrangements for babysitters, cancelling transports or applying for emergency leave.

In Kuala Muda and Yan, Kedah, many parents were unaware that schools in the two districts were closed due to the haze.

In Johor, teachers handling the Sijil Peperiksaan Malaysia (SPM) subjects are complaining about having to race against time to make sure their students are well-prepared to sit for the exam early next month.

Today, schools in Penang, Putra­jaya, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Perak, Kedah, Perlis, Negri Sembilan and some areas in Pahang and Sarawak will remain closed.

School exams will go on as planned
The Star 22 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Public exams and school exams will go on as normal, even with the haze.

Education director-general Datuk Seri Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof said students sitting for this year’s Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) should wear face masks during the exam.

“Schools will help if they can. If not, students should bring their own face masks to school,” he told reporters after presenting prizes during the Pembestarian Sekolah 2015 award ceremony at the ministry’s Educational Technology Divi­sion.

The SPM will take place from Nov 2 to Dec 8.

Schools have been closed by the ministry due to unhealthy Air Pollutant Index readings.

Dr Khair said there would be no replacements for the days when schools were closed due to the haze.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said yesterday that contingency plans were in place if the haze worsened during the crucial end-of-year examinations.

Schools in several Malaysian states to close for fourth day due to haze
The areas affected include Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Sabah and Perak, which had Unhealthy readings Wednesday afternoon.
Channel NewsAsia 21 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: For a fourth day this week, schools in several parts of Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Sabah and Perak, have been advised by the Ministry of Education to close on due to deteriorating haze conditions.

In a statement on Wednesday (Oct 20) , the ministry said the affected areas are: Selangor; Putrajaya; Kuala Lumpur; Kuching, Padawan, Bau Lundu, Serian, Samrahan, Simunjan and Lubok Antu in Sarawak; Kinta Utara, Kinta Selatan, Manjung and Tanjung Malim in Perak; and Kuala Muda/Yan in Kedah.

“A total of 4,778 schools and 2,696,110 students from the mentioned areas will be affected,” said the ministry.

- CNA/yt

Haze moves north, five areas with very unhealthy air
The Star 22 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The haze that had enveloped most of the southern parts of the peninsula on Wednesday seemed to have moved north.

While the Air Pollutant Index reading for Port Klang and Shah Alam moved back to the unhealthy range on Thursday morning (from very unhealthy on Wednesday), residents in Perlis and Penang are breathing very unhealthy air.

At 8am Thursday, the API (at very unhealthy levels) for some areas are: Kangar (235), Alor Setar (218), Bakar Arang, Sg Petani (237), Langkawi (230), Seberang Perai 2 (262) and USM (228).

Other areas (unhealthy levels): Banting (122), Kuala Selangor (149), Port Klang (161), Petaling Jaya (116), Shah Alam (139), Kemaman (106), Kuala Terengganu (108), Batu Muda, KL (122), Cheras (100), Putrajaya (118), Kuching (125), Tawau (117), Samarahan (131), Sarikei (108), Sibu (109), Sri Aman (162), Kota Baru (122), Tanah Merah (119), Malacca (102), Bukit Rambai (105), Nilai (102), Seremban (106), Port Dickson (95), Jalan Tasek, Ipoh (157), Kg Air Putih, Taiping (163), SK Jalan Pagoh, Ipoh (173), Seri Manjung (183), Tanjung Malim (135), Perai (187).

An API of between 0 to 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy), 301 and above (hazardous).

Afternoon school sessions in Penang suspended
The Star 22 Oct 15

GEORGE TOWN: The afternoon session for primary and secondary schools in Penang have been suspended due to the haze.

State Education Director Sharri Osman said the announcement was only made today (Wednesday).

"Schools in the afternoon sessions are close today. Tomorrow if any changes are made the announcement will be made by the Education Ministry," he said in a text statement.

A teacher at a primary school in Bayan Lepas said headmasters and principles in Penang were informed about the schools' suspension at 1.34pm.

"Classes are usual for us but parents can pick up their children if they wish to do so," said the teacher.

The Air Pollutant Index at Universiti Sains Malaysia is at the unhealthy range of 153.

Haze: 34 flights in and out of Langkawi cancelled
New Straits Times 21 Oct 15;

LANGKAWI: Low visibility due to the worsening haze condition in Langkawi has forced another 12 flights scheduled to arrive and depart the Langkawi International Airport to be cancelled as at 2pm today, raising the total to 34 flights cancelled today.

Malaysia Airports Bhd (MAB) manager for Langkawi, Jefri Ramli told Bernama that the decision was following Air Pollutant Index (API) hovering at 149, which is considered unhealthy. Jefri said the total number of flights cancelled today was 34.

“The Langkawi International Airport is still operating.

The decision to cancel the flights was made by the respective airlines following information from the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) about the haze and visibility,” he said.

Meanwhile, Langkawi District Education officer Marzuki Daud, said all schools in the Island would be closed tomorrow as the API has reached the unhealthy level.

Marzuki said since yesterday afternoon the haze condition had worsened in Langkawi and that it was the second time Langkawi was engulfed by the haze after a similar occurrence early this month.--BERNAMA

10 flights cancelled in Penang
PHUAH KEN LIN New Straits Times 21 Oct 15;

GEORGE TOWN: Ten flights to Penang have been cancelled due to worsening haze condition as of 4pm today. Penang International Airport senior manager Ariff Jaafar said eight Firefly flights bound for Penang from Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang were called off due to low visibility. He said and two AirAsia flights bound for Penang from Langkawi were grounded in view of the unsafe flying condition. "Eight Firefly flights into Penang between 3pm and 9pm while the AirAsia flights scheduled to depart for Penang from Langkawi at 5.50pm had been scrapped," Ariff said. Meanwhile, he said four AirAsia flights bound for Penang from Medan, Indonesia had been delayed due to the unfavourable weather condition. The visibility has dropped from 900 meters yesterday to a mere 500 meters as of 4pm.

Maritime, aviation industries suffer losses
ILI LIYANA MOKHTAR New Straits Times 21 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The country’s aviation and maritime industries are suffering losses due to cancelled flights and trips, no thanks to the haze.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the haze, which has resulted in poor visibility, had required ships and aircraft to cancel their trips due to industry protocols.

Liow said, according to protocol, flights have to be cancelled if visibility is less than 600 metres.

For ships, the visibility has to be less than one nautical mile.

However, he said the ministry had yet to receive exact figures on the losses incurred by the industries.

“We don't have the exact figures for the losses incurred yet as the ministry is currently looking into the matter,” he told a press conference during the launch of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Vocational Institute here today.

Campaign launched to aid Kalimantan residents affected by haze
DANIAL ALBAKRI The Star 21 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The Care 4 Kalimantan campaign is seeking the help of Malaysians to aid the people of Kalimantan who are the worst affected by the unrelenting haze.

The focus of the campaign is on communities in Kalimantan, who suffer the brunt of the haze and have had to bear Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings of up to 1,889.

Many people in the region suffer from Acute Respiratory Infection caused by the particles borne in the haze.

The campaign is specifically looking for donations of N95 masks, eye drops and adult safety goggle as well as monetary donations.

A crowd-funding page has also been set up to collect monetary donations with the goal of raising US$3,100 (RM13,314).

Funds raised will be used to pay for the purchase of the items and to cover the cost of packaging and shipping them over to Kalimantan.

The campaign also plans to send a team of 10 volunteers to Kalimantan to help distribute the items as well as to educate local residents on the importance of using N95 masks while the haze persists.

Together with collecting physical and monetary donations, there is also a social media campaign requesting Malaysians to pledge their support for the campaign.

Those who want to help are asked to take a picture of themselves with a simple message of support and to share the picture on social media using the hashtag #Care4Kalimantan.

The campaign, organised by the Rotaract Club of Bangsar, works in collaboration with Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Kalimantan and Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia.

Both these local organisations have a direct presence in the affected communities and will be helping with the distribution of items to the targeted communities.

For more details on the Care 4 Kalimantan campaign, visit its Facebook page or the Indiegogo crowd-funding page.

Haze: RM10k worth of fake face masks seized
New Straits Times 21 Oct 15;

LABUAN: The Office of the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism here seized 2,149 fake respirator face masks worth RM10,745, from two hardware premises here on yesterday.

The seized fake items bore the name of a popular Canadian brand while the fake was made in Korea.

State chief enforcement officer Mohd Fikri Lai Abdullah described the seizure as the biggest so far this year, involving an imitation product.

He told a press conference today that the seizure was the result of a one-day operation following public complaints.

He said based on preliminary investigations, the fake was sold at RM5 as compared to the genuine product costing RM6 each.--BERNAMA

‘M’sia will adopt PM2.5 air quality reading method next year’
Today Online 22 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — Malaysia is to fully adopt the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading method that can measure fine particles less than 2.5 micron (PM2.5) by end of 2016, Bernama reported, citing Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

The minister said PM2.5 would provide a more accurate measurement of the country’s API, compared with the current way of measuring fine dust of less than 10 microns (PM10), according to the state news agency.

“Installation should be done in stages as there are more than 50 monitoring stations in the country, compared with only five or six in Singapore, that’s why they can implement the PM2.5 measurement since 2014.

“In fact, another 13 monitoring stations will be built after the implementation of the PM2.5 particulate measurement,” he was quoted as saying at the parliament lobby yesterday (Oct 21).

The API reading parameter currently used in Malaysia was still acceptable and in accordance with international standards, Mr Wan Junaidi said, according to Bernama.

Mr Wan Junaidi also denied widespread reports on social media about “yellow haze” in Malaysia, advising people to always check the validity of any haze-related news before believing or spreading it.

“The truth is, there is no yellow haze as the Department of Environment (DOE) said it. It (yellow haze) happens in Indonesia but it doesn’t happen here (Malaysia),” he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

Read more!

Malaysia could adopt S’pore’s transboundary law on haze pollution

Today Online 22 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysian government is studying Singapore’s new transboundary law to ascertain if it can be adopted in Malaysia, said natural resources and environment minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar yesterday.

“We are still studying this to see whether we can use it, whether it can relate to us, its terms and conditions or whether we can improve on it,” he said in Parliament in response to points raised by Members of Parliament during an emergency debate on the smoggy conditions currently blanketing the region. “We are serious. I told the AG (Attorney General) we need to look into this and the AG told me he will raise this with his Singaporean counterpart.”

Malaysia has no legislation similar to Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014, which allows the city state to impose steep fines on local or foreign companies found contributing to smoke pollution in the republic.

Singapore has recently invoked the law to serve notices to five companies suspected of contributing to the current hazy conditions.

Malaysia, like Singapore, has been severely affected by thick haze in recent weeks due to forest fires in Indonesia from illegal land-clearing activities in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The haze has forced schools in the region to close, flights to be disrupted and thousands of people to seek treatment for respiratory problems.

As the problem has recurred for years and remains unresolved, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak urged scientists at an international meeting last week to come up with ideas to tackle the annual problem from Indonesia.

Mr Wan Junaidi had earlier said the signing of a new memorandum of understanding between Malaysia and Indonesia to tackle the problem was postponed for a second time, because his Indonesian counterpart was busy with fire-extinguishing operations in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Even though there is no law in Malaysia to punish companies responsible for the haze, several Malay-Muslim groups in the country said companies that have been using forest fires to clear land in Indonesia will face a class action lawsuit in about a month.

Mr Nadzim Johan, who heads the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia, said the proposed lawsuit will be a good way for those affected by the haze to express their anger against the firms responsible.

“So we want to collect information — who burns forest, who is the owner — and we ask the lawyers that have expertise in legal matter, maybe international laws, to gather and discuss with the purpose of taking legal actions against companies, especially Malaysian companies,” he told reporters at a press conference.

Another activist, Mr Sheikh Abd Kareem Said Khadaied, said the Malay-Muslim groups involved in the planned lawsuit are in a “fact-finding” process to determine if 10 companies on their list are truly responsible for the haze.

“Some of the 10 companies are subsidiaries of government-linked companies and we also know that Malaysia’s GLCs have much involvement with farming in Indonesia. So we hope those who are involved come to us before we come and find them,” the secretary-general of Muslim group Pertubuhan Tarekat Muktabar Malaysia (PERTAMA) said, without naming the 10 companies.

Mr Sheikh Abd Kareem later told reporters that the eventual list of non-governmental organisations involved in the lawsuit could easily go up to 250, which he claimed would represent one million consumers. AGENCIES

Law to nab haze culprits under way
SIRA HABIBU The Star 22 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: A new law similar to Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act is being drafted in Malaysia to bring to book local companies setting forest fires abroad.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the proposed law was necessary to ensure that offenders causing transborder haze did not escape with impunity.

“I have directed the ministry’s legal adviser to prepare the framework with the technical team before forwarding it to the Attorney-General’s Chambers for fine-tuning prior to tabling the draft Bill in Parliament,” he said.

Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali confirmed that the proposed law may be modelled on the Act passed in Singapore last year.

“The A-G’s Chambers will wait for the ministry to refer to them,” Apandi told The Star.

Wan Junaidi said he had directed the ministry’s legal adviser three weeks ago to prepare the framework for the new laws, as Malaysia currently did not have jurisdiction to take action against local companies committing the offence abroad.

He said it was part of a two-pronged strategy being undertaken to facilitate legal action against those responsible for causing haze.

Malaysia has also suggested including another legally binding clause in the proposed bilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Malaysia and Indonesia, which is yet to be ratified, to refer breaches in agreement to the International Court of Justice.

Wan Junaidi said resorting to legal action would be most effective in tackling the long-standing woe that has taken a toll on the entire population in the region.

He added that statistics from the Indo­nesian authorities showed that most of the culprits involved in torching forests were smallholders (97%), compared with big corporations which made up only 3% of the cases.

MPS Urge Government To Tackle Transboundary Haze
Bernama 21 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 21 (Bernama) -- Several members of parliament (MPs) today urged the government to address the worsening transboundary haze issue.

Datuk Ikmal Hisham Abdul Aziz (BN-Tanah Merah) said Malaysia as ASEAN chair should force the Indonesian government to take serious action against plantation companies including from Malaysia, which were involved in open burning.

"Currently, the haze is still plaguing our country with some areas recording unhealthy reading. Until when will we need to breathe smoke and face this situation?" asked Ikmal Hisham.

He said this when debating the motion on haze raised by Hee Loy Sian (PKR-Petaling Jaya Selatan) at the Dewan Rakyat, today.

Ikmal Hisham said he believed that Malaysia was wise to use its diplomatic ties with Indonesia to find solutions and also to review heavier provisions of the law towards irresponsible parties and increase its enforcement efforts to combat open burning.

Ong Kian Ming (DAP-Serdang) said he hoped that the ministry involved would review the current air pollutant index (API) reading system to meet the current situation like what was being done in Singapore.

Mohd Hatta Md Ramli (Amanah-Kuala Krai) wanted the government to be resolute in facing the situation by finding the best approach to tackle the problem in view of haze also resulting in the closure of schools and airports.

Meanwhile, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar when winding up debate the motion said Malaysia was serious about finding a permanent solution to the problem of transboundary haze.

Wan Junaidi said Malaysia was still discussing with the Indonesian government on drafting a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the bilateral level to address the issue.

"Malaysia is serious about signing the MoU on haze with Indonesia but it has not been finalised by the Indonesian side.

"Malaysia wants to add two terms namely commitment and accountability to be more clearly strengthened to tackle transboundary haze and action can be taken if they failed to implement the MoU," he said.

Wan Junaidi also pointed out that the current API reading technology used in Malaysia was in accordance with the international standard protocol of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

The Dewan Rakyat sitting continues tomorrow.


Malaysia’s proposed haze law may let Indonesia to shirk own duty, lawyers say
Today Online 23 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR — Imposing a specific law here to punish companies responsible for haze-causing fires in Indonesia could backfire as it might detract from efforts to hold Jakarta accountable for the annual issue, lawyers have said.

While legal practitioners have no issue with introducing such a law, they warned that it would likely do little to push Indonesia to enforce its own laws and policies to manage the long-standing problem.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen said any law created to deal with the haze would only work if Indonesian authorities cooperate and get to the bottom of what causes the haze.

“Laws are not magic wands that can make haze disappear. It takes political will and political cooperation for the Indonesian authorities to stop the haze,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted.

Bar Council Environment and Climate Change committee chairman Roger Chan said reactive statements by Putrajaya do little to solve the annual problem, especially with the lack of details as to what the law would do and a timeframe for it to be passed and enacted.

He said issues such as poverty, land ownership and sustainable development should be looked into, in addition to educating Indonesians to not resort to burning to clear pieces of land.

“Each time when there is an environmental problem faced in this country, people make grand announcements.

“The haze has affected millions of people... what is needed is a plan of action, we need to set a timeline,” he said.

Should Malaysia insist on adopting Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014, then it should impose harsher penalties with higher fines and possibly even jail time for company executives, Mr Chan said.

Singapore’s law allows its government to fine local or foreign companies US$100,000 (S$138,816) a day, up to a maximum of US$2 million for haze pollution in the country.

“If there are companies that are adamant, we can increase the threshold to up to US$5million to drive home the message,” Mr Chan said, adding that Malaysia can also consider taking Indonesia to an international tribunal seeking compensation or even a directive for the latter country to end the pollution.

Universiti Malaya law professor Dr Azmi Sharom noted that by prosecuting Malaysian companies found to have contributed to the haze, Putrajaya would build political clout to pressure Jakarta to take more substantial measures to deal with the issue.

This would at the same time put to good use the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze — which Dr Azmi said has not been very effective to date.

“Actually as a treaty, it is very weak but it does impose an obligation to assist one another with regards to exchange of information. So Indonesia, under the treaty would be obliged to help us prosecute our own people.

“We can also use this as pressure to ratify the treaty so they will be able to help us fight this thing together,” he said.

On Wednesday, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told the Dewan Rakyat that the federal government is studying the possibility of a new law on transboundary haze passed by neighbouring Singapore to deal with the annual haze problem that has affected the region over the past two decades.

Schools in eights states were forced to close due to the haze for most of this week.

The haze blanketing Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia is an annual affair that affects schools as well as airport operations, causing massive flight disruptions.

Indonesia’s recent admission that it cannot contain the fires within its borders led to projections that the haze could last for months. MALAY MAIL ONLINE

Read more!

Indonesia: Singapore’s one-plane offer to help fight fires ‘insulting’

Today Online 21 Oct 15;

JAKARTA — Singapore’s offer in September of only “one aircraft” to Indonesia to help fight forest fires that have caused thick haze to descend around the region was “insulting”, said Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.

Speaking in an interview last Friday (Oct 16) with the country’s Tempo magazine, Mr Luhut defended Indonesia’s perceived tardiness in putting out the fires and in accepting foreign aid.

“During the dry season, peatlands tend to be very flammable. When we bombard the land with water to put out the flames, they just come out again. So I get a headache when people get upset. What are we supposed to do?” he replied when asked why this year’s forest fires are worse than those of last year’s.

“Then someone asks why we didn’t accept the assistance offered earlier. There are many reasons for that. Firstly, we wanted to try and do it on our own. Secondly, we didn’t realise the process would be so long. Thirdly, (Singapore) offered only one aircraft. It was insulting.”

In September, Singapore offered a C-130 aircraft for cloud-seeding operations, a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket for aerial fire-fighting, and up to two C-130 aircraft to ferry the Singapore Civil Defence Force fire-fighting assistance team.

Mr Luhut’s comments in the latest issue of the magazine came after Indonesia finally accepted help from Singapore on Oct 7 after repeatedly ­declining offers of help for weeks. Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen had even flown to Jakarta at the end of September to meet his Indonesian counterpart at one of the meetings. During his visit, Dr Ng also met Mr Luhut.

On October 11, aircraft from Singapore and Malaysia began water-bombing missions to put out the raging fires in South Sumatra.

Singapore sent a Republic of Singapore Armed Forces (RSAF) Chinook helicopter with a 5,000-litre heli-bucket and 34 SAF personnel to help fight the ongoing forest fires, together with a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force. Two RSAF C-130 aircraft were also deployed to transport SAF and SCDF personnel.

In an interview on Oct 7, Indonesian Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung told CNN Indonesia that Jakarta had earlier rejected Singapore’s offers of assistance because it was concerned that the city state would claim credit for solving the problem, despite being worried about the rapidly deteriorating situation.

In the Tempo interview, Mr Luhut also pledged to confiscate the land and revoke the licences of big companies that practise illegal burning next year.

“This haze problem is also about injustice. When a company controls 2.8 million hectares of land, where is the justice? Then there are those who own 600,000 hectares of land but own not a single fire extinguisher. Should the government be dousing fires all the time? If we call it a national disaster, they will benefit by it.” AGENCIES

Companies will benefit if haze problem declared national disaster: Indonesian minister
"They have 500 million pounds sterling in London banks, but they demand that we douse the flames," the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security told Indonesia's Tempo magazine.
Channel NewsAsia 21 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: The annual haze problem in Indonesia is about injustice, Indonesia's coordinating minister for politics, law and security Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said.

"When a company controls 2.8 million hectares of land, where is the justice? Then there are those that own 600,000 hectares of land but own not a single fire extinguisher," he said in an interview in the Oct 25 issue of Tempo, an Indonesian weekly news magazine.

He explained authorities' reluctance to declare the haze problem a national disaster, even though air pollution levels in some Indonesian cities have reached hazardous levels at more than 2,600 API.

"Should the government be dousing fires all the time? If we call it a national disaster, they will benefit from it," he said, referring to land concession owners. "They have 500 million pounds sterling in London banks, but they demand that we douse the flames."

Mr Luhut added that his government did not accept the assistance offered by neighbouring countries earlier because they "wanted to try and do it on their own". He also said that it was "insulting" that (Singapore had) "offered only one aircraft".

The minister touched on his involvement in tackling the forest fires, which used to be managed largely by the National Disaster Management Agency. "Well, that's how the President wants it. Perhaps he feels it's too important. That's why we're doing it."

He added that President Joko Widodo has gone to the affected areas many times "so he must see it as a serious problem".

Asked about 30 companies that have reportedly been censured for fires and Mr Luhut said "many more" will be indicted. "If it happens again next year, we will confiscate all their lands, revoke their licences," he told Tempo. "Now they don't dare do any funny business. They know I'm on their case."

- CNA/hs

Countries now understand how hard it is to put out forest fires: South Sumatra governor
South Sumatra province was one of the areas most badly hit by forest fires, and for more than a week, international help had focused on extinguishing the blaze.
Channel NewsAsia 21 Oct 15;

PALEMBANG: South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin says lessons have been learnt from the Indonesian forest fires and resultant haze crisis.

Speaking to reporters after the regional heads meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Mr Noerdin said that neighbouring countries now understand how difficult it is to put out the fires.

"Is the help from our neighbouring countries significant or not? The answer is yes, and no,” said Mr Noerdin.

“I don't want to mention any names, but there are lessons learnt. They now know putting out the fires in the peatlands is extraordinarily difficult, so now there's no more speculation from other countries. That is good."

South Sumatra province is one of the areas most badly hit by forest fires, and for more than one week, international help has focused on extinguishing the blaze.

Mr Noerdin says forest fires also occur every year in Australia, Canada, and the United States. But the difference is that because those fires are not in the peatlands, they can be put out a lot easier, says Mr Noerdin.

He has also refuted allegations that the province may not have been well-prepared for the forest fires, saying that South Sumatra has been on alert for forest fires since Feb 26, and has conducted water bombings since July.

More than 600 local leaders, including governors, regents, and mayors attended the meeting with President Widodo in three separate sessions.

- CNA/yt

Indonesia needs more firefighting aircraft

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Straits Times/Asia News Network Jakarta Post 21 Oct 15;

Indonesia will need at least 15 more bigger water-bombing aircraft to fight forest and peat land fires in South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan and new ones that have flared up in Papua and Sulawesi.

The Mozes Kilangin airport in Timika, Papua, was forced to close indefinitely Tuesday owing to the thick haze.

"Fifteen additional aircraft would bring about a significant impact before the rain finally comes," Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said after he surveyed the situation in South Sumatra aboard a helicopter Tuesday.

There are currently 26 aircraft, including foreign ones, which Mr Luhut said are not enough.

These aircraft have focused mostly on putting out the fires in South Sumatra, which has been blanketed by choking haze for more than three months.

Another four aircraft are for cloud-seeding operations to induce rain, although the clouds have mostly not been suitable.

Some experts reckon the current fires in Indonesia, which produce the thick haze that has spread across South-east Asia, are unlikely to be put out in the next month or two.

A multinational effort involving countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Australia is under way to help put out the fires, but new hot spots have emerged in Papua and Sulawesi, which were not known to be fire-prone until now.

"The fires are massive, the weather is severely dry and the winds are strong. Water-bombing operations in the past week have only managed to mitigate but not stop the fires," said Mr Luhut.

"We have to launch bigger operations," added the minister, whose helicopter ride had to be cut short because of the haze.

The aircraft Mr Luhut has in mind include five Air Tractor planes - three for South Sumatra and two for Central Kalimantan - and also five Beriev and five Bombardier aircraft.

Two Russian-made Beriev Be-200 water bombers, which can carry up to 12,000 litres of water each, are expected to arrive in South Sumatra early this morning, while an Australian and a Malaysian aircraft returned home on Monday.

Mr Luhut was accompanied on the trip by the armed forces commander, General Gatot Nurmantyo, national police chief Badrodin Haiti, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar and South Sumatra governor Alex Noerdin.

During the aerial inspection, General Badrodin spotted fires near a river in a concession that he said came under a Sinar Mas company. Sinar Mas is the parent of Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper.

"There are fires in a Sinar Mas concession that are close to sources of water. Why can't they put out the fires? We are talking about thousands of liters of water near the location of fires. They should not rely too heavily on us," Gen Badrodin told a debriefing meeting.

Agreeing, Mr Luhut added: "Don't make us work for the companies as if we are their employees."

Meanwhile, the association of Indonesian pulpwood plantation companies (APHI) has objected to Singapore's move to investigate its members, locally known as HTI companies, local media reported.

HTI companies investigated by Singapore's National Environment Agency are legal entities in Indonesia, so they fall under Indonesia's legal jurisdiction, APHI deputy chairman Irsyal Yasman was quoted as saying. (k)(++++)

Two russian planes arrive in Palembang to help extinguish forest fires
Antara 21 Oct 15;

Palembang, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Two Russian multipurpose Beriev Be-200 Altair amphibious aircraft arrived here on Wednesday to help extinguish forest and plantation fires in South Sumatra.

The Indonesian government rented the Russian aircraft that came with 20 Russian personnel, according to the Commander of the Palembang air force base, Lt. Col MRY Falefie.

"The amphibious planes will take water from Malacca Strait, and will be on standby at the Pangkal Pinang airport," he said.

Pangkal Pinang had enough visibility levels for safe flying. The Russian aircraft can make seven to eight sorties with a water carrying capacity of 12,000 liters of water per sortie.

The Russian aircraft arrived after the Malaysian and Australian aircraft returned to their respective countries on Oct. 19.

Currently, 10 Indonesian aircraft including helicopters, and one Singaporean aircraft are still operating in South Sumatra to carry out water bombing activities and induce artificial rains.

With the assistance of private companies, the Russian aircraft rented by Indonesia will operate until October 31, 2015.

In the meantime, the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) has called on all Muslims in the country to perform an Istisqa or mass prayer asking for rain in an effort to extinguish the ongoing forest and land fires.

Prolonged forest, peatland and plantation fires worsened by El Nino-induced drought, are raging in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands.

"We urge all Muslims in Indonesia to perform the Istisqa," MUI Chairman KH Maruf Amin told journalists in Jakarta on Wednesday.

The move comes in response to the ongoing forest and land fires in the two main Indonesian islands. The fires have also affected Singapore as well as certain parts of Malaysia and Thailand.

Amin said the Istisqa should be preceded by fasting for three days, saying Istighfar (asking for almighty Gods mercy), improving attitude, and practicing simple and good life.(*)

2 Russian jets land in Indonesia to help douse forest fires
Associated Press Jakarta Post 21 Oct 15;

Two Russian jets that can drop 12.5 tons of water arrived on Sumatra island Wednesday to help douse Indonesia's massive forest fires that have spread smoky haze over parts of Southeast Asia.

The amphibious planes, leased by Indonesia's government and sent by Russia's Emergencies Ministry, can suck 13,250 liters (3,500 gallons) of water from a river or sea in seconds. Similar planes helped extinguish fires on Sumatra and Borneo islands in 2007.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the two Beriev Be-200 planes landed in Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province. The Russian jets will be deployed to fight the fires soon.

Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and Japan are among the other countries that have sent aircraft, firefighters or chemicals and experts to help fight the forest and brush fires that have raged for months.

Indonesia has been unable to put out the rugged fires, especially in peat-rich provinces on Sumatra and Kalimantan and on the Indonesian part of Borneo island where fires have been worse this year due to intentional burning and the absence of rain because of the El Nino effect.

The fires have spread a thick, smoky haze over Indonesia as well as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. It has forced cancellations of flights and closing of schools, and caused numerous cases of acute respiratory infections. Media have reported at least 7 deaths.

Nugroho said satellite images showed more than 3,200 hotspots on Wednesday, more than two-thirds on Sumatra and Borneo but also appearing on other major islands of Java, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said some 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of forests and plantation land have been razed by fires in Sumatra and Borneo.

"The government has tried hard to extinguish the wildfires across the country, but it has gotten out of control," Nurbaya said. She added that the ministry has revoked licenses of three plantation companies and suspended 11 others.

Indonesia has deployed nearly 26,000 soldiers, police and fire personnel in six provinces to fight the fires, with 25 aircraft conducting water-bombing and cloud-seeding operations.

National Police chief of detective Lt. Gen. Anang Iskandar said two officials of Malaysian companies have been named suspects. Police in several provinces are handling 256 cases with 243 suspects, including 17 company officials, and 83 of the suspects have been arrested.

Indonesia brings in Russian aircraft to tackle haze
Edna Tarigan, 20 Oct 15;

Malaysia and Australia's aid to Indonesia in lending water bombing aircraft ended on Monday. So, Indonesia turned to Russia for more help to tackle the haze crisis.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said on Tuesday that Bombardier aircraft from Malaysia and Hercules aircraft from Australia had returned to their respective countries.

"They have ended their five-day mission. There is only Chinook Mustang helicopter conducting water bombing in South Sumatra,” Sutopo said in a statement sent to on Tuesday.

He said there are currently 11 helicopters and airplanes, ten from Indonesia and one from Singapore for water bombing and cloud seeding.

"To increase the water bombing efforts, the government brought in two units of amphibi aircraft Beriev Be-200 along with 20 crew from Russia. They will land on Wednesday morning in Palembang," he said, adding that Russian Embassy officials have arrived in Palembang.

Sutopo explained that the the Be-200 plane is a legendary amphibious water bombing aircraft with a 12,000 liter capacity. Its ability includes taking water from rivers, lakes and the sea.

"Indonesia used this type of aircraft in the 2007 forest and land fires," he said.

As part of its strategy, the government moved two Air Tractor planes to Pangkal Pinang, Bangka Belitung province, to support the operation as Palembang airport is covered with thick haze with less visibility that disrupts the flights.

Sutopo added that water tanks with a capacity of 5,000 liters of water, chemical materials and other equipment have been prepared in the Pangkal Pinang base for fire extinguishing operations.

Seperately, Sugarin Hidayat, chief of Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said there were 623 hot spots detected in Sumatra on Tuesday. The Terra Aqua satellites recorded 19 hot spots in Bengkulul, 67 in Jambi, 23 in Lampung, 456 in South Sumatra, 6 in West Sumatra, 28 in Bangka Belitung and 24 in Riau.

“The weather in Riau is cloudy and covered by haze. The potential for rain is very low, “ he said. (rin)

Indonesian minister's remarks on aid offer 'taken out of context'
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Oct 15;

JAKARTA - Comments by a senior Indonesian minister who reportedly called Singapore's offer to help fight fires in Sumatra "insulting" were taken out of context, a close aide said yesterday. "It was put out of context," said Mr Atmadji Sumarkidjo, referring to a report in Tempo magazine this week that quoted Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

In the report, presented in a question-and-answer format, Mr Luhut commented on the challenges of putting out peatland fires during this dry season.

But in an apparent reply to a question by Tempo on why the government initially turned down Singapore's offer of assistance, Mr Luhut was quoted as saying that one of the reasons was that Singapore "offered only one aircraft. It was insulting".

The Indonesian publication could not be reached for comment, but Mr Atmadji said: "Menkopolhukam (Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs) himself is close to Singapore leaders, therefore they communicate well and he knows perfectly well that Singapore had sent over two Chinooks and a supporting Hercules (C-130) plane."

When the haze crisis peaked last month, Singapore offered an assistance package that included a C-130 military transport plane for cloud seeding, up to two C-130s to ferry a firefighting assistance team, as well as a CH-47D Chinook helicopter, which can haul a 5,000-litre water bucket for aerial firefighting.

"It was Menkopolhukam who had intensively communicated with Singapore, so they sent over their assistance," added Mr Atmadji. "We will continue to ask Singapore for assistance in the efforts to overcome the haze crisis."

Read more!

Indonesia: Haze emergency extended, air quality at ‘dangerous’ level again

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 21 Oct 15;

The Riau administration has extended its haze emergency status due to deteriorating air quality in the province while the air quality in West Sumatra has again reached dangerous levels.

The Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) station in Kototabang, Agam regency recorded on Tuesday that the air quality touched the “dangerous” level in almost all areas in West Sumatra with the particulate matter (PM10) at 519 per cubic meter (µg/m³).

“It’s caused by hotspots, which are still found in many areas in the southern part of Sumatra, and the movement of the air. We think that it will still occur in the next two days,” the station’s researcher Alberth Nahas told The Jakarta Post.

According to the government’s existing guidelines, air quality is considered “healthy” if its PM10 level stands at below 50 µg/m³, “moderate” when the level stands between 50 and 150 µg/m³, “unhealthy” between 150 and 350 µg/m³, “very unhealthy” between 350 and 420 µg/m³ and “dangerous” when it surpasses 420 µg/m³.

Because of worsening air quality, several schools in Bukittinggi sent their students home early on Tuesday.

Separately, Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi “Andi” Rachman issued a decree to extend the haze emergency status for the next two weeks due to the poor air quality.

“The decision was made after a plenary meeting with relevant parties. It has been made because the air quality is still at unhealthy and dangerous levels,” Andi told reporters on Tuesday.

The province first declared a two-week haze emergency status from Sept. 28 until Oct. 12 and it extended the status for another week until Oct. 19.

The governor called on all stakeholders in the province to consider the extension of the emergency status for their current programs, such as deciding on school holidays.

“The free medication should also be continued,” he said.

According to the latest data from the province’s health agency, which was collected from 12 cities and regencies, the number of residents suffering haze-related diseases reached 77,665 people by last month.

Among the patients, 65,232 residents suffered acute respiratory infections (ISPA), 3,002 residents had asthma, 3,622 residents suffered eye irritations and 4,744 skin irritations.

“In all regencies, the number of residents suffering from ISPA amounted to more than 1,000 people,” Riau Health Agency head Andra Sjafril said.

According to data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), 30 hot spots were detected in six regencies in Riau, including 10 in Meranti, six in Indragiri Hilir, four in Pelalawan and three in Indragiri Hulu.

“Twenty one of the hot spots are fires with a reliability level of 70 percent, including those in Meranti, Indragiri Hilir, Indragiri Hulu and Pelalawan regencies,” Pekanbaru BMKG data division head Slamet Riyadi said.

Meanwhile, the thick haze was still blanketing cities and regencies, including Pekanbaru, Kampar, Siak, Rokan Hilir and Bengkalis.

“Visibility in the cities and regencies varies between 400 meters to 800 meters,” Riyadi added.

Separately, Indonesia Disaster Mitigation Experts Association (IABI) chairman Sudibyakto said that government institutions’ lack of coordination allowed the crisis to continuously occur.

“The weakness in coordination and overlapping authority, has caused people to continue to suffer. This time is the biggest disaster of the last two decades,” Sudibyakto said in Yogyakarta on Tuesday.

He suggested that Indonesia needed to establish a super-body tasked with overcoming the land and forest fires, including regulatory and law enforcement aspects.

— Slamet Susanto also contributed to the story from Yogyakarta

Hot spots increase in Papua, South Sumatra 21 Oct 15;

Several flights at Moses Kilangin Airport in Timika, Mimika regency, Papua, were canceled on Wednesday morning because as a thick haze from nearby fires brought visibility down to around 1 kilometer.

According to Timika meteorology station spokesperson Dwi Christanto, the region's cool weather has kept the haze from dissipating, leaving it to blanket the airport instead.

"Weather conditions in Timika will improve if the number of hot spots in Merauke regency are reduced and firefighting is maximized," said Dwi on Wednesday as quoted by Antara news agency.

Since Oct. 15, the airport has been unable to serve wide-body aircraft such as those from Garuda Indonesia, Sriwijaya Air and Airfast Indonesia.

On Tuesday, 257 hot spots were detected by NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites in Papua and Maluku, up from 229 the previous day. Yos Sudarso Island in Merauke regency and the border area between Merauke and Mappi regencies were said to have the most hot spots.

Meanwhile, the number of hot spots in South Sumatra has also increased, rising to 530 on Wednesday, spread across 16 regencies and cities. This increase comes despite the area having been the focus of foreign aid as requested by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. Two days ago, there were only 163 hot spots in South Sumatra.

"The number of hot spots detected in South Sumatra in October has been fluctuating. It will decrease for a few days, but the next day drastically increase, just like today," said spokesperson for the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) South Sumatra, Indra Purnama.

Ogan Komering Ilir regency is home to most of South Sumatra’s hot spots, with 356, followed by Musi Rawas with 50 hot spots, Musi Banyuasin with 35, Banyuasin with 34, Lahat with 13, North Musi Rawas with 11 and Ogan Komering Ulu with 10. (kes)(++++)

Haze reduces visibility to 20 meters in Central Kalimantan
Antara 21 Oct 15;

Muara Teweh, Central Kalimantan (ANTARA News)- Haze arising from forest, peatland, and plantation fires has reduced visibility to 20 meters in Muara Teweh, North Barito District, Central Kalimantan, on Wednesday.

"The haze has thickened and drastically reduced visibility. It causes respiratory problems and eye irritation," Arief Hidayat, a local inhabitant, stated.

According to the Muara Teweh meteorology office, the surface visibility on Wednesday morning was 20 meters, and the vertical visibility was 50 feet.

Based on the monitoring by Terra and Aqua satellites, no hotspots were detected in North Barito on Wednesday at 5 am local time.

"Although zero hotspots were recorded, the haze is very thick here," Sunardri, the head of the Muara Teweh meteorology office, reported.

Head of the North Barito environmental office Suriawan Prihandi remarked that the air quality in the district had reached a hazardous level.

He urged local inhabitants to stay indoors or wear face masks if they have to venture outdoors.

In the meantime, the Palangka Raya authorities have decided to temporarily close schools from the kindergarten to senior high school level as haze from forest fires has reached 1,354.32 PM10 level, which is deemed categorically dangerous.

The schools were closed from October 19 to 21, 2015, Septia Rianty, a senior high school teacher, stated in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan Province, on Monday.

The students have been given homework, so they could study at home, she added.

"Teachers are actually highly concerned as the learning process of the students has been frequently disrupted due to the haze from forest fires," she affirmed.

She hoped the government would take stern action to prevent the recurrence of such a disaster in the coming years.

Previously, the capital of Central Kalimantan had closed schools on September 10-16, on September 25-October 6, and yet again on October 16-17 due to the haze.

Over 78,000 people become haze victims in Riau
Antara 21 Oct 15;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Health Service of Riau recorded that haze has affected the health of 78,879 people in the province.

"The data was collected from community health care centers, health posts, and mobile post services, which continue to operate on a 24-hour basis," Head of Riau Provinces Health Service Andra Sjafril stated here on Wednesday.

He noted that the haze disaster, caused by forest and land fires, continued to intensify over the past three months. The government has provided face masks and medicines.

The Riau health official explained that the stock of face masks is therefore adequate.

"The stock of medicines is also adequate, so the people need not worry about the shortage of medicines and face masks," Sjafril affirmed.

The haze victims comprised 66,234 people suffering from upper respiratory tract infections, 1,076 pneumonia, 3,073 asthma, 3,693 eye irritation, and 4,857 skin diseases.

In the meantime, thick haze has hindered aerial water bombing operations involving two helicopters operated by Riaus Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD).

"We have prepared two helicopters since this morning, but the visibility range is around five hundred meters, and it is impossible to fly in such conditions," noted Edwar Sanger, the regional disaster mitigation agencys chief.

The MI 171 and Sikorsky are the two helicopters prepared by the agency after another was sent to assist in the operations to extinguish forest fires in South Sumatra.

Edwar pointed out that both helicopters can only fly if the visibility reached 1.5 thousand meters.

The agency had planned to conduct water bombing operations on Tuesday in Riaus districts: Meranti Isle, Indragiri Hilir, and Indragiri Hulu.

"Hopefully, the smog would recede, so that we can fly and immediately put out the fires before they spread," Edwar noted.

Meanwhile, the agency is still relying on the ground team to put out the fires that are located in the three regions.

Earlier, Edwar had stated on Tuesday that smog was also a major problem being faced by the agency while operating the helicopters.

"Yesterday, we only managed to conduct water bombing in Siak. Alhamdulillah (Thank God), 12 hotspots were successfully extinguished. We wanted to fly to Indragiri Hilir and Indragiri Hulu, but the visibility was very poor," Edwar added.

The Meteorological, Climatology, and Geophysics Station (BMKG) in Pekanbaru on Wednesday detected 25 hotspots, with 22 believed to have arisen from forest fires at a confidence level of over 70 percent.

"Three hotspots were spread across Meranti, 12 in Indragiri Hilir, and seven in Indragiri Hulu," stated Head of BMKG in Pekanbaru Sugarin.(*)

Seven foreign firms allegedly involved in land and forest fires
Antara 21 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Seven foreign companies are strongly believed to have been involved in land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Chief of the National Polices Criminal Investigation Unit (Bareskrim). Commissioner General Anang Iskandar said.

The seven companies are identified by their initials as PT ASP of China, PT KAL of Australia, PT H of Singapore and PT IA, PT PAH, PT AP and PT MBI of Malaysia, he said at the National Police Headquarters here on Tuesday.

PT ASP is operating in Central Kalimantan, PT KAL in West Kalimantan, PT IA in South Sumatra, PT PAH in Jambi, PT AP in Jambi, PT H in South Sumatra and PT MBI in South Sumatra.

"The cases are being handled by the respective provincial police units," he said.

The police also have named PT PAH commissioner, identified by his initials as KBH, and PT AP commissioner, identified by his initials as KKH, as suspects in the case. Both commissioners are Malaysian nationals.

"They are charged with violating article 116 of the Environment Law," he said.

Till October 19, 2015, the police had handled 256 cases of land and forest fires. These included four cases handled by Bareskrim, 35 cases handled by the South Sumatra police, 71 cases by the Riau police, 21 cases by the Jambi police, 63 cases by the Central Kalimantan police, 29 cases by the West Kalimantan police, 13 cases by the South Kalimantan police and 12 cases handled by the East Kalimantan police.

The police have so far named 243 people as suspects in land and forest fires.

Of these, 88 suspects have been detained. (*)

Police name 7 foreign firms suspects
The Jakarta Post 21 Oct 15;

The National Police added on Tuesday five more foreign firms to their list of companies suspected of causing forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that have produced haze over Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Thailand.

According to National Police detective division chief Comr. Gen. Anang Iskandar, the five companies have been identified as PT KAL (Australia), PT IA (Malaysia), PT PAH (Malaysia), PT H (Singapore) and PT MB (Malaysia).

The police also declared last week PT ASP (China) and PT AP (Malaysia) suspect.

“The cases are being handled by local police. The companies allegedly committed the slash-and-burn practices,” said Anang.

He also said that the local police had detained three Indonesian citizens working as executives in the companies.

“The investigations will continue and more suspects may be named in coming days,” said Anang.

The hazardous haze has forced the closure of thousands of schools, grounded hundreds of flights and has caused trans-boundary air pollution that has affected Indonesia’s neighbors including Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

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Carbon from Indonesia fires exceeds US emissions: Green groups

The World Resources Institute, using findings from the Global Fire Emissions Database, said in a recent report that since early September carbon emissions from the fires had exceeded average US daily output on 26 out of 44 days.
Channel NewsAsia 21 Oct 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesian forest and agricultural fires cloaking Southeast Asia in acrid haze are spewing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each day than all US economic activity, according to an environmental watchdog.

The shock assessment came as Jakarta said the number of blazes was increasing across the archipelago despite a multinational fire-fighting effort, and announced plans to deploy more water-bombing aircraft.

For nearly two months, thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming have suffocated vast expanses of the region with smog, causing respiratory illnesses to soar, schools to close, and scores of flights and some international events to be cancelled.

Much of the burning is in tropical peatlands rich in carbon but which are being drained and cleared at a rapid rate to make way for agriculture, particularly fast-expanding palm oil plantations.

The World Resources Institute said in a recent report that since early September carbon emissions from the fires had exceeded average US daily output on 26 out of 44 days.

The United States is the world's second-largest greenhouse gas source after China. The WRI, a US-based research organisation that focuses on environment and development issues, normally classifies Indonesia as the fifth-biggest emitter.

"The burning of tropical peatlands is so significant for greenhouse gas emissions because these areas store some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth, accumulated over thousands of years," said the WRI.

"Draining and burning these lands for agricultural expansion, such as conversion to oil palm or pulpwood plantations, leads to huge spikes in greenhouse gas emissions."

In its report, the WRI used findings from the Global Fire Emissions Database, which uses satellite information to estimate emissions from blazes.

The smog crisis is escalating as world leaders gear up for talks beginning next month on a climate rescue pact, which will seek to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.


The fires and resulting region-wide blanket of smoke occur to varying degrees each year during the dry season as land is illegally cleared by burning, regularly angering Indonesia's smog-hit neighbours Malaysia and Singapore.

Malaysia, which in recent weeks has repeatedly ordered school closures across several states as a health precaution, did so again on Wednesday for the third straight day as pollution levels climbed.

The landmark twin towers in the capital Kuala Lumpur were shrouded in dense, grey smog, with air quality in the "very unhealthy" or "unhealthy" range across much of the country. In Singapore, air quality was in the "unhealthy" range.

Popular Thai holiday islands have also been affected with the haze forcing several planes packed with beach-bound tourists to turn back earlier this month.

While the loudest complaints have come from leaders in relatively affluent Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, it is poor Indonesian villagers who are suffering most.

One of the worst-hit areas, Palangkaraya, on Borneo, has been engulfed in thick, yellow haze, which has drastically reduced visibility and pushed air quality to more than six times "hazardous" levels.

Experts warn the current outbreak is on track to become the worst ever, exacerbated by bone-dry conditions caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

The fires on the huge islands of Sumatra and Borneo are typically only brought under control by November with the onset of the rainy season.

But Herry Purnomo, a scientist at the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research, told AFP this week that climatology data indicated the rainy season may be delayed this year and that the fires could last until year-end.

Indonesia earlier this month agreed to accept international help after failing for weeks to douse the fires and last week launched its biggest fire-fighting push yet, with dozens of planes backing up thousands of personnel on the ground.

But the national disaster agency said the number of "hotspots" - areas detected by satellite which are already ablaze, or ripe to go up in flames - had risen to more than 3,200 and spread to the eastern Papua region, which is usually largely unaffected by fires.

Authorities hope to deploy a further 10 to 15 water-bombing planes, which will join about 30 aircraft already fighting the blazes. Singaporean and Malaysian aircraft have taken part in the operations, while two Russian planes arrived Wednesday to provide assistance.

- AFP/rw/ec

Indonesia's carbon emissions set to cross 2006 crisis level
David Fogarty, The Straits Times/ANN Jakarta Globe 22 oct 15;

Emissions from forest and land fires in Indonesia have rocketed in the past two weeks and will today surpass the total emissions for the 2006 fire crisis, the country's second-worst on record, according to an analysis of Nasa satellite data.

Fires have raged across large parts of Indonesia, particularly Sumatra and Kalimantan, for the past two months. Over the past two weeks, total emissions have soared from nearly one billion tonnes to nearly 1.4 billion tonnes.

The Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI), using findings from the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED), said in a recent report that since early last month, carbon emissions from the fires had exceeded average United States daily output on 26 out of 44 days. The US is the world's No. 2 carbon polluter after China.

Much of the burning is in peatlands rich in carbon but which are being drained and cleared for agriculture, particularly oil palm and pulpwood plantations.

Very few fire episodes globally, except Indonesia's 1997 fire crisis and massive fires in the Amazon early last decade, compared to what is occurring now, said Dr Guido van der Werf of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.

"This is a different magnitude," he said. Dr van der Werf analyses daily hot spot data from National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellites and is a specialist in estimating greenhouse gas emissions from fires. He has been running daily analyses on the blazes in Indonesia for the GFED.

Along with emissions, the number of fires has soared as well, with Dr van der Werf's team recording more than 108,000 since the start of this year. His analysis for yesterday showed total emissions to be just a fraction under the 2006 total and expected the number to easily exceed 2006 levels by today.

With no rains expected until year end, Indonesia is rapidly closing in on the emissions record set in 1997, when haze produced by its worst forest fires blanketed large parts of South-east Asia.

Experts warn that the current outbreak is on track to become the worst ever, exacerbated by bone- dry conditions caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon. That could hurt Indonesia's climate emissions reduction pledge for a major United Nations climate conference in Paris in December. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas blamed for driving climate change.

"The burning of tropical peatlands is so significant for greenhouse gas emissions because these areas store some of the highest quantities of carbon on earth, accumulated over thousands of years," WRI said.

Dr Herry Purnomo, a scientist at the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (Cifor), told Agence France-Presse this week that climatology data indicated the rainy season may be delayed and that the fires could last until year end. Yesterday, a Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency official also predicted the rainy season, which normally starts in November, would be delayed until December, reported.

The fires could also be producing more emissions than estimated.

"My guess is what we are going to see out here is much higher emissions than from your average fires," Dr Louis Verchot, Cifor's director of forests and environment, told The Straits Times last week.

Global NGO Wetlands International, in a position paper yesterday, urged Indonesia to adopt better peatland management practices. It also said Indonesia needed to develop a national peatland conservation and restoration strategy.

It recommended that Indonesia restore and conserve unused peatland, stop further drainage, block existing drainage canals and phase out drainage-based plantations, among other measures. (k)

Fires in Southeast Asia may be emitting more greenhouse gases than the entire U.S.
JONATHAN KAIMAN Los Angeles Times 21 Oct 15;

A toxic haze has repeatedly wafted over huge swaths of Southeast Asia in the last month, causing school closures, grounded flights, canceled events and widespread concern about public health risks across the region. Here’s what you need to know about the Great Haze of 2015.

Nearly 100,000 fires are burning, setting up what looks to be the worst fire year in the region since 2006. The carbon emissions from the blazes have now surpassed those of the entire United States — the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases — on 26 out of 44 days since September, according to a report by the World Resources Institute.

That’s because about half the fires are in peatland areas — concentrated mainly in South Sumatra, South and Central Kalimantan, and Papua — that are among Earth’s biggest carbon storehouses.

Compared with ordinary fires, peat fires can emit up to 10 times more methane, a greenhouse gas whose impact on climate change is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The immediate effects on health are even more worrying.

What’s going on?
Every dry season, parts of Indonesia’s Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua areas are reduced to smoking, burned-out landscapes, as palm oil and paper-and-pulp plantation farmers burn forests to cheaply clear agricultural land.

The upshot is a whole lot of smoke — enough to create a billowy haze which, since late September, has engulfed swaths of Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.

On Monday night, in parts of Singapore, one of the world’s most fastidious cities, readings of PM2.5 — particulate matter small enough to enter the bloodstream — soared to 471, shrouding the city in a deep grey smog that called to mind industrial centers like Beijing.

How bad is it, really?
It’s bad. Aside from posing a clear public health hazard — the World Health Organization estimated last May that 7 million deaths a year were linked to air pollution — the haze has put a major damper on the daily lives of millions.

Singapore canceled the 2015 FINA Swimming World Cup, and Malaysia canceled the Kuala Lumpur marathon. As monsoon winds blew the haze northeast from Indonesia, officials on the Philippine island of Cebu grounded flights due to low visibility.

The Malaysian government has advised asthma sufferers to remain indoors and ordered temporary school closures across four states and in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. In early September, an Indonesian government ministry declared a state of emergency across six provinces. Some of the country’s pharmacies have started selling bottled oxygen.

Has this happened before?
The haze has been a periodic event since the 1970s. Yet this year, a particularly dry autumn in Indonesia, brought on by the El Nino weather event, has made the haze one of the worst on record — about as bad as in 2006, when NASA satellite images showed the smoky clouds extending all the way to South Korea.

What is this doing to the environment?
Nearly 100,000 fires have been detected in Indonesia this year, according to Guido van der Werf, an expert on wildfire emissions at VU University Amsterdam. More than half of the fires have occurred on carbon-packed peatland — land covered in dense layers of decayed organic matter, which produces thick, acrid smoke when it burns.

Together, they’ve generated an estimated 600 million tons of greenhouse gases, he wrote on the Global Fire Emissions Database — about as much as Germany emits in a year.

What are countries doing about it?
Indonesia has deployed 14 helicopters to douse flames in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and has begun encouraging plantations to adopt more environmentally friendly agricultural techniques on peatlands.

Early this month, the country’s government — after repeatedly insisting that it could take care of the fires on its own — agreed to accept offers of personnel and equipment from Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and Japan to help douse the infernos. Singapore is also doing its bit: this year, the country began allowing legislators to prosecute companies — both local and foreign — that are involved in causing the fires.

"We have done the best we can,” the head of Indonesia's disaster agency, Willem Rampangilei, told reporters in early October. "It is understandable if other countries are upset, but we Indonesians are more upset."

And yet...
However, the Indonesian government has come under fire for not doing more to put the problem to rest.

In late September, about 150 protesters from 10 student and nonprofit groups gathered in Palangka Raya, in Central Kalimantan province, to protest what they described as official inaction. “We want disaster management teams to be prepared in advance in order to safeguard people’s health,” Ali Wardana, one of the protest leaders, told the Singaporean broadcaster ChannelNewsAsia. “And we want sanctions against those who burn the land for profit.”

South-East Asian haze strikes the Pacific as fires exceed greenhouse gas output of the US
ABC News 21 Oct 15;

Indonesian forest and agricultural fires cloaking South-East Asia in acrid haze are spewing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each day than all United States economic activity, according to an environmental watchdog.

The shock assessment came as Jakarta said the number of blazes was increasing across the archipelago despite a multinational firefighting effort, and announced plans to deploy more water-bombing aircraft.

The haze, which has sent air quality levels up to "very unhealthy" levels in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, is now affecting the Pacific nations of Guam, Palau and the Northern Marianas.

Guam's Office of Homeland Security and Civil Defence spokesperson Jenna Gaminde has warned the public to expect the haze to reduce visibility and adversely affect those with respiratory issues.

Western Melanesia is currently susceptible to winds from typhoons Koppu and Champi pulling smoke plumes from vast fires in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

For nearly two months, thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming have suffocated vast expanses of the region with smog, causing respiratory illnesses to soar, schools to close, and scores of flights and some international events to be cancelled.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) said in a recent report that since early September, carbon emissions from the fires had exceeded average US daily output on 26 out of 44 days.

The US is the world's second-largest greenhouse gas source after China. The WRI normally classifies Indonesia as the fifth-largest emitter.

"The burning of tropical peatlands is so significant for greenhouse gas emissions because these areas store some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth, accumulated over thousands of years," the WRI, which used findings from the Global Fire Emissions Database for the report, said.

Much of the burning is in peatlands, drained and cleared by farmers illegally, and at a rapid rate, to make way for agriculture and in particular fast-expanding palm oil plantations.

Borders no barrier to haze

Malaysia, which in recent weeks has repeatedly ordered school closures across several states as a health precaution, did so again on Wednesday for the third straight day as pollution levels climbed.

Air quality was in the "very unhealthy" range near the capital Kuala Lumpur, under the government's rating system, with much of the rest of the country experiencing "unhealthy" air.

In Singapore, air quality was also in the "unhealthy" range.

What's behind the haze?

Find out what is behind the choking smoke covering Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Popular Thai holiday islands have also been affected, forcing several planes packed with beach-bound tourists to turn back earlier this month.

Experts warn the current outbreak is on track to become the worst ever, exacerbated by bone-dry conditions caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

The fires on the huge islands of Sumatra and Borneo are typically only brought under control by November with the onset of the rainy season.

But Herry Purnomo, a scientist at the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research, said that climatology data indicated the rainy season may be delayed this year and that the fires could last until year's end.

As well as on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo, a substantial number had been detected in the easternmost region of Papua, the agency said. Papua is not typically affected by widespread outbreaks of agricultural fires.

Australian firefighters assist in 'mammoth size' battle

At a cabinet meeting late on Tuesday, the Indonesian government decided it needed another 10 to 15 water-bombing planes which it planned to rent from international allies, agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

About 30 planes are currently involved in water-bombing and artificially inducing rain, with Singaporean, Australian and Malaysian aircraft having taken part.

Two Russian planes also arrived on Wednesday to provide assistance.

Superintendent Ben Millington of New South Wales' Rural Fire Service recently returned from a seven-day deployment in Sumatra, and he reported that "the fires aren't expected to be put out any time soon".

"The task ahead is one of a mammoth size," he told the ABC's The World program.

"On Monday alone there was 236 fires or hotspots burning on the island of Sumatra alone."

But with Indonesia experiencing a prolonged dry season with no rain in sight, manned efforts to put out the fires remain hindered.

Mr Millington added that Australia is to remain in ongoing discussions with Indonesian authorities, but "until they experience their traditional wet season those fires will most likely continue to burn".

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